Courage amid the Rubble
Messages from Japan inspire hope.
Easter morning. Christians everywhere are celebrating, singing, “Hope comes with the dawn.” But I haven’t had to wait for Easter. For weeks now, hope has come daily in messages from a shattered city in Japan.
The day the earthquake hit, my friend Kenko Tsuji replied to my frantic e-mail message, assuring me that though the ground under their tiny Tokyo restaurant continued to shiver, she and her husband, Kiyoshi, were fine. There was no electricity, Kenko said, no way to preserve the precious fish Kiyoshi turns into sushi. No customers in any case. But Kenko worried most about her brother, four hours away in Sendai City, in hospital with a broken leg. “We cannot contact him,” she wrote. Then added, “But do not worry for us. All we need is love and not material things.”
In the weeks since, Kenko’s messages have continued full of unfaltering courage. Perhaps this should come as no surprise. When she joined our family some twenty years ago, as nanny to our children, Kenko embraced life in this new country and culture with cheerful determination. On her days off, she began to study the Japanese tea ceremony, an ancient art that turns the simple act of making tea into an exercise in cultivating mindfulness and inner peace.
Kenko married Kiyoshi, a Toronto sushi-chef, and they returned to Japan, to realize their dream of owning their own restaurant. Kenko continued to study the tea ceremony, learning patience with her own process, and sharing quiet with those who engaged her to perform the ritual as a celebration of life milestones, or simply to reconnect with the calm we all hold deep within.
When the tsunami hit, I should have realized that Kenko’s spirit would rise above the crushing destruction of waves. Her first e-mails contained details of devastation but also her plan to offer the tea ceremony, as soon as possible, to those who were plunged into despair around her. “We can’t keep in a mood of sorrow,” she wrote a week after the disaster, “We need to keep really close to make a day that we can smile together.”
In Canada we have many examples of those who have turned daunting life challenges into their mission in the world. Terry Fox may be the most famous. But there are others who, like Kenko, work daily at transforming a care into caring. In my own small community in Saskatchewan, Michelle Walsh, mother of three young children, has turned her battle with MS into a crusade to assist other sufferers. From her farmhouse in tiny Beechy, Sask. (pop 295), Michelle’s web-site provides 3,000 people a month, from all parts of the world, with information and encouragement.
My own daughter, Jade, is a transwoman. Jade was born biologically male but knows herself to be female. After suffering through her own “tsunami of the soul,” as I call it, Jade is studying for a social work degree. Her goal is to become a therapist to support other trans-folk.
As a Christian minister, I’ll be talking to my congreagtions this Easter morning about transforming our challenges into our own special way of serving and inspiring the world; turning our crosses into our causes. This is not a message Christians have a monopoly on by any means. For me, this possibility is being lived out most obviously now by a Buddhist woman in Toyko who, daily, sends me messages of courage and hope.
Recently, Kenko mentioned her plan to visit her parents in the countryside, but noted that it may be many months before the roads outside Tokyo are passable again. In the meantime, she writes, “I learn something of value every day. We do not need so much electricity. And, we should never think we are smarter than nature.” Again, Kenko turned to the tea ceremony for wisdom, offering this translation from The Book of Tea by Tenshin Okakura. “-Teaism is the cup of humanity. It is (an art) founded on finding the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It instills purity and harmony and mutual charity… It is a worship of the Imperfect, a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”
In his heart-wrenching masterpiece, A Farewell to Arms, Earnest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” In the midst of the tsunamis of the soul that life brings us all, some find it within themselves not to let their hope be swept out to sea. From the rubble of loss, pain and broken dreams, some emerge stronger, more courageous, more sure of priorities and their mission in the world. Crosses become causes. Burdens blossom into blessings. One single person becomes a light to the world around them. And then, like Kenko, they inspire us all.